Football Rivalries

By Dave Fultz

Nothing gets sports media and college fans more hyped up than a great rivalry. There is no need to look further than the national coverage of any Michigan-Ohio State game.

And while we here in Champaign-Urbana would like nothing more than to say that those two powerhouses are our rivals because of our Big Ten connections, it just isn’t a reality. There are four qualities of a great rivalry that cannot be ignored.

  • Proximity of the schools’ campuses.
  • Conference ties or some other arrangement that all but guarantees an annual meeting.
  • Competitive balance between the two teams.
  • Fan enthusiasm.

Illinois’ first official rivalry began in 1925 when the Illibuck trophy – originally a live turtle – was first awarded to the winner of the Ohio State-Illinois matchup. The trophy, a wooden replica since 1927, has been awarded to the Buckeyes 56 times in 80 meetings. Although this tradition is deeply rooted in Illini history, the two teams are just not on the same level today, so this one’s out.

The other two official rivalries also have hardware attached to the schools’ games on the gridiron and have each been around for more than 60 years. The Purdue-Illinois winner has been awarded the Purdue Cannon since 1943. Likewise, the winner of the Northwestern-Illinois game has taken home the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk since 1945.

These are good rivalries, but do Illini fans circle these games on their calendars when the schedule arrives?

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    No, but I’m sure they’ll circle the Saturday that the Illini travel to Bloomington, Ind., to take on the Hoosiers.

    Once one of mutual respect, this competition has turned bitter in recent history and the fans of each team have responded. The feud was rejuvenated within the last year by a controversy over former Illini basketball recruit Eric Gordon. Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson recruited Gordon out from under Bruce Weber and the mutual hostility of the fans has been constant since.

    With the Hoosiers coming back for a last-second victory during the Illini’s Homecoming weekend last football season and Gordon set to start his freshman season for Sampson at Indiana, the rivalry will be strong for years to come.

    Only one question is left: How long will it be until we see “Huck the Foosiers” shirts popping up on campus?